When it comes to social networking, IT departments can lead, follow, or get out of the way.
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The IT department can be instrumental in guiding and supporting the use of technology products and processes that move businesses toward their social business goals. It can also--even with the best of intentions--stall nascent social efforts.
It would be a huge understatement to say that the role of enterprise IT departments is changing. Cloud computing and the BYOD model are just two factors that have forever shifted what IT departments do and how they do it. Social networking has had at least the same impact. In fact, you could argue that it has had more of an impact. After all, social networking almost always includes elements of cloud and BYOD, and it involves a major shift in the way organizations collaborate and in the ways technology is evaluated (if it is at all), procured (many social platforms are free or cheap enough that the cost can fly under the radar), installed (easy enough for anyone to set up), and managed (again, if it is at all).
Enterprise IT departments are at a crossroads. IT managers must make some sometimes tough changes in order to be social business drivers and not social business speed bumps. Following are five surefire ways to stall social business efforts, as well as some recommendations for keeping things running smoothly.
1. Insist that things be done the way they have always been done.
This is no time to be set in your ways. Insisting that business managers jump through permission and procurement hoops that were set up back when versions were a "thing" will only get you figurative footprints on your back. Social business experts and IT professionals don’t recommend that IT sit back while users do what they want when they want. Rather, they advise, work closely with business managers to identify needs, identify tech products and processes that meet those needs, and examine the ways in which those products and processes could affect other parts of the business.
2. Refuse to support any unofficial technology.
Sure, you can continue to insist on the hoops and refuse to support technology whose owners did not jump through said hoops. But what you'll likely end up with is not duly chastened end users, but rather users who are setting up and using technology in a way that is less secure and efficient than it would be if you were involved. An IT exec at an academic institution told The BrainYard that his job has shifted to that of technology facilitator. He said it’s not his job to tell people what to use or how, but rather to make sure that the products being used are used safely and effectively.
3. Stick with what you know.
Fine, you might say. Let them set up their rogue social listening apps and their internal social collaboration platforms. You can just ignore all that technology and focus on securing the network or patching desktops or aligning with regulatory mandates or whatever your primary responsibility has been. But social networking is not going away. It will affect each of these areas and more. Experts recommend that IT professionals work alongside business managers to develop and maintain social business policy so that it puts social business goals and concerns into the context of existing policy and processes.
4. Show them how it's done.
Rather than insisting that social fit into existing norms or ignoring the technology completely, you could take the opposite tack: figure everything out on your own, and then tell business managers what social platforms to use and how to use them. But going in with guns blazing will likely backfire: There's no one-size-fits all solution, and without working closely with business managers to figure out what products will fit their needs, failure is almost guaranteed.
5. Think of IT as a department.
If you think of IT in the traditional sense--as an independent department that serves its organization in the evaluation, use, and management of technology--you're doing a disservice to both your organization and anyone on the IT staff. Instead, think of IT professionals developing areas of specialty around the business, and/or end users developing areas of expertise in IT. The BrainYard spoke with IT exec who is moving one of his staff from the IT department to marketing, which has historically been on the leading edge when it comes to social. The idea is that this person will take his technology skills with him, but will also learn the ins and outs of a communications department. This way, he develops specific expertise and can offer more valuable, purposeful insight and support in the implementation of social business technology.
Is your organization’s IT department a social driver or a social speed bump? We welcome your comments below.
Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)